Thursday, August 6, 2015

Permission, Not Permissive

Mom and Dad have been very clear when giving permission to Caruso and Macie about where they can sit or take a nap!

"…Not surprisingly, the human end of the leash sometimes contributes to unwanted behavior without intending to do so..."    Suzanne Clothier

Permission, Not Permissive


Out of control!

Impulse issues!


Lacking self control!

These labels and many more are readily applied to so many dogs.  Yet the handler often isn't even considered to be part of the dynamic that contributes to the dog's behavior.

Relationship Centered Training (RCT) always considers the relationship and how dog and human interact to create behavior.  Not surprisingly, the human end of the leash sometimes contributes to unwanted behavior without intending to do so.

One huge problem I see over and over again is that handlers often silently permit the dog to do as he pleases.  Handlers may have quite a dialogue in their heads going on in their head at any given moment:

“Oh, he just loves his friend Buster.  I’m so glad he has doggie friends.  No wonder he was pulling so hard, he saw his friend!”

"She was so abused, I am just tickled that she's pulling me over to meet new people!"

"I know he gets so excited when he sees [sheep - squirrels - cats - hedgehogs - balloons - water - toys - fill in your choice], I just can't control him!"

You know what the dog hears from handlers who are busy justifying and rationalizing their dog's behavior?


You know what the dog may believe?

“If I see my friend Buster, I can drag her over there.  She does move kind of slow and she pulls too.”

"I can go greet anyone I like.  My handler isn't a part of this."

"I don't need to pay attention to my handler when there are more interesting things to see, do or chase."

To discover whether you may be permissive rather than someone who gives permission to the dog to do X, Y or Z, try this Silent Movie experiment:

Videotape yourself training or just walking with your dog.  Show this to a friend.  Ask them what they believe you are working on in that video.  Ask them what the rules you have for your dog’s behavior based on that video.  You may be surprised!

Like silent movie audiences, dogs must guess from the action, not the words, what’s happening and what is intended.  Sometimes, handlers make very confusing movies!

When permission is implicit – meaning it’s not actually stated – the dog understandably can become confused.  Worse, the dog can end up thinking he can do what he likes without needing to check with you.

Explicit permission involves deliberate signals that the dog can hear, feel, see.  This may be verbal cues, visual cues, even touch cues.  This may also be your entire body language and actions.  For example, when I say "Go say hi" I often drop my head briefly, extend an arm or hand towards the person/animal to be greeted, and step towards them myself along with my dog.  This makes my message "go say hi" crystal clear to the dog.  And it is very different from the full body message of "no, sorry, not now" that I may give in another situation. 

When you give explicit permission, you gain a great deal:

  • Clarity for both you and the dog about what is intended and permitted.
  • Control over behavior, especially behavior driven by strong motivations.
The take away message for your dog is that if I can  “Go say hi!” at times, I can also say “not now” at others.  This allows the dog to understand clearly that there are times when behavior X is fine but times when it is not.

"Copyright © 2013 by Suzanne Clothier. Used by permission of Suzanne Clothier. All rights reserved. For more information about Suzanne please visit"

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